Lighting up the night sky in the ancient Greek myths was Selene, the moon goddess. Unlike her brother Helios, who blazes across the sky, Selene’s presence is subtle, yet equally profound. Her story is one of passion and duty, as well as the eternal rhythms of night and day.
Selene Key Facts
|Parents||Hyperion and Theia|
|All Siblings||Helios (Sun) and Eos (Dawn)|
|Offspring||Fifty daughters (the Menai)|
|The Goddess of||The Moon|
|Symbols||Crescent moon, chariot, torches, bulls|
Name and Etymology
Selene’s name, derived from the ancient Greek word “selas” meaning “light” or “brightness,” perfectly encapsulates her essence. As the moon goddess, she is the embodiment of the night’s luminescence, casting a silvery glow upon the earth. In Roman mythology, she is known as Luna, a name that has become synonymous with the moon in various languages. Throughout the ages, she has also been referred to as “Mene,” emphasizing her phases and the cyclical nature of time.
Selene’s Family and Childhood
Born to the Titans Hyperion and Theia, Selene hailed from a lineage of astronomical deities. Her siblings, Helios, the sun god, and Eos, the dawn goddess. Together with Selene, they formed the celestial trio that governed the sky’s diurnal rhythm. From the moment of her birth, Selene was destined to play a pivotal role in the cosmos. Every night, as Helios retreated beyond the horizon, Selene would begin her ascent. She was the silvery counterpoint to her brother’s golden radiance.
Specific tales of her childhood are sparse. However, it’s clear that Selene’s destiny was intertwined with the night from the very beginning. She grew up understanding her role in the delicate balance of day and night. Moreover, she was ensuring that the world never plunged into perpetual darkness or unending light.
Selene’s Lovers and Relationships
The moon goddess, with her ethereal beauty, has been the subject of many a romantic tale. But among them, her love story with Endymion stands out.
Endymion, a shepherd or, in some tales, a king of Elis, was renowned not just for his regal bearing but also his beauty. His allure was such that he even captivated the heart of the celestial Selene. Every night, drawn by an irresistible pull, Selene would descend from her lofty realm to the mortal world. There she would steal a few moments beside the sleeping Endymion. Their meetings, though silent, spoke volumes of a love that transcended the boundaries of both time and realms.
Legend has it that Selene’s love for Endymion was so profound that she wished for him to remain ageless, to preserve the moments they shared for eternity. She beseeched Zeus, and he granted Endymion the gift of eternal sleep. This meant that he would remain forever young, untouched by time’s withering hand. However, it also meant that he would never truly be awake beside his divine lover. Yet, for Selene, this eternal slumber was a bittersweet blessing. It allowed her to gaze upon her beloved’s face every night, their love forever frozen in a timeless embrace.
From her union with Endymion, Selene bore fifty daughters, known as the Menai. These Nymphs, Guardians of Nature represented the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad, further emphasizing Selene’s influence over time and cycles.
Depiction And Characteristics
Selene’s essence, as the goddess of the moon, is beautifully captured in various art forms and literature. Furthermore reflecting her significance in the Greek pantheon.
Selene is often portrayed as a stunning woman, her face capturing the serene beauty of the moon. Draped in robes that shimmer like the night sky, she is frequently depicted with a crescent moon crown. Symbolizing her dominion over the nocturnal heavens.
In many artworks, she’s seen riding a silver chariot drawn by two horses across the night sky. This imagery, much like her brother Helios’, signifies her journey. She is casting moonlight upon the world as well as maintaining the balance between night and day.
The moon goddess, in contrast to the blazing and dynamic sun, embodies calmness and reflection. Her demeanor is often depicted as contemplative, echoing the tranquil nights she governs. While passionate in love, as seen in her tale with Endymion, Selene is also a figure of consistency and reliability, ensuring the moon’s timely phases and influencing the rhythms of the world below.
As the moon’s deity, Selene holds significant influence over the night. Her ascent every evening brings forth the moonlight, guiding sailors, illuminating the darkness, and influencing the tides. Beyond her physical attributes, Selene also holds sway over the subconscious realm, influencing dreams, emotions, and intuitions. Her cyclical nature, with the waxing and waning of the moon, also ties her to the concepts of rebirth and renewal.
Selene’s Symbols, Animals, or Plants
The moon, in its various phases, is the primary symbol associated with Selene. However, her influence extends to other elements as well.
The bull, a creature of strength and fertility, is often linked to Selene, representing her nurturing aspect. White flowers, especially those that bloom at night, are sacred to her, symbolizing purity and the moon’s gentle glow. The cypress tree, with its silvery leaves shimmering in the moonlight, is also associated with the goddess, standing as a testament to her enduring presence.
Selene’s Roles And Responsibilities
Beyond her nightly journey across the sky, Selene plays a crucial role in various aspects of life. Her influence over the tides ensures the ebb and flow of the seas, vital for navigation and marine life. The moon’s phases, governed by Selene, also play a role in agriculture, determining planting cycles and harvests.
Moreover, Selene, with her connection to the subconscious, governs the realm of dreams. Her gentle light is believed to inspire visions, guiding seers and poets alike.
Selene In Ancient Greek Religion
Selene, with her calming presence, held a special place in the hearts of the ancient Greeks.
While not as extensively worshiped as some other deities, Selene had her dedicated spaces of reverence. Temples in her honor were often located in high altitudes, closer to the night sky she ruled. These sacred spaces, bathed in moonlight, became places of reflection, meditation, and dream interpretation.
Worship and Festivals
Selene, the gentle luminary of the night, held a special place in the hearts of the ancient Greeks. Her silvery glow, casting a serene light upon the world, was not just a celestial phenomenon. It was also a symbol of hope, renewal, and the cyclical nature of life. Daily rituals, prayers, and hymns were dedicated to her, marking the phases of the moon. However, it was during the grand festivals that her worship truly came alive, resonating with joyous celebrations and profound reverence.
Noumenia, celebrated at the onset of the new moon, was one of the most significant events dedicated to Selene. This marked the beginning of the lunar month in the Athenian calendar. It was a time of rejuvenation, considered highly auspicious for embarking on new ventures and forging fresh beginnings.
Homes and temples would be adorned with laurel leaves and shimmering white fabrics, reflecting the moon’s radiant glow. Families would gather around a festive table, offering the first fruits of their labor, honey, and wine to Selene. These offerings were not just tokens of gratitude but also a plea. Furthermore, seeking her blessings for prosperity, protection, and clarity in the month ahead.
Representations Of Selene In Art
In classical sculptures, Selene is often portrayed in a flowing robe, her head adorned with a crescent moon, emphasizing her dominion over the night sky. One of the most iconic representations is the “Selene Horse” from the east pediment of the Parthenon. This sculpture captures the moment of her descent, with her horses weary from their nightly journey, beautifully encapsulating the transition from night to dawn.
Beyond sculptures, Selene graced the surfaces of countless vases and pottery. These artworks often depicted her iconic chariot ride across the sky. Sometimes showcasing her alongside her siblings, Eos and Helios, symbolizing the eternal dance of day and night. The recurring theme in all these artworks is the calm and consistent presence of Selene. She is both a beacon in the night, as well as guiding and nurturing.
Mentions in Ancient Texts
Not only does Selene illuminate art with her luminous presence, but she also shines brightly in ancient literature, seamlessly weaving tales of her might and grace onto the pages.
In Homer’s “Odyssey,” Selene is mentioned as the counterpoint to Helios, emphasizing the balance she brings to the world. Her influence over dreams and the subconscious realm is often alluded to in various texts. Furthermore highlighting her connection to the deeper, more introspective aspects of life.
One of the most evocative mentions of Selene is in the “Homeric Hymn to Selene.” The hymn beautifully articulates her essence, stating, “Bright Selene, the fair-faced, ever-shining daughter of great Hyperion, lights up the deep darkness with her immortal body.” This ode not only celebrates her radiant beauty but also underscores her role in dispelling the darkness and bringing clarity.
Worth mentioning is that in much like Selene, the Old Norse moon god Máni, rode across the sky in a chariot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Selene is the personification of the actual moon, representing its physical form and its journey across the sky. However, other lunar deities often symbolize different aspects or phases of the moon.
The crescent moon symbolizes the waxing and waning phases of the moon. Moreover it is representing the cyclical nature of time, which Selene governs.
Unlike many other gods and goddesses, Selene’s tales are more of love and duty rather than conflicts and adversaries.
They honored Selene by offering hymns and prayers during the new moon, seeking her blessings for the lunar month ahead.
Yes, lunar eclipses were often seen as moments when Selene was in close communion with the earth. Her light being temporarily obscured, only to be reborn with renewed vigor.
Featured Image Credit: ArchaiOptix, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons